Wodonga woman visits Beersheba to learn more about her great-uncle's war history

An Indigenous man volunteered to serve the country that didn’t recognise him as a citizen 103 years ago on Monday.

I think that he felt he could contribute in some way, especially with the Light Horse in regards to the skills he had and the knowledge he had about bush

Judith Ahmat

Allan (also spelt Allen) McDonald joined the 8th Light Horse Brigade in the first few months of World War I, becoming one of four Aboriginal men from Victoria to serve at Gallipoli before being sent to Egypt and Palestine.

His great-niece, Wodonga’s Judith Ahmat, and other descendants have been researching his story with the assistance of the Rona Tranby Trust, which supports the preservation of Indigenous Australian oral history.

Part of that journey took Mrs Ahmat to Israel in late October for the 100th anniversary commemoration of the Battle of Beersheba.

Born at the Lake Condah Aboriginal mission in the Western District, Mr McDonald enlisted at the age of 27.

“I think he wanted to make sure the country was safe,” Mrs Ahmat said. “The forces actually showed some equality, so everyone was treated in a similar way.

“Also I think that he felt he could contribute in some way, especially with the Light Horse in regards to the skills he had and the knowledge he had about bush.”

His brother George, Mrs Ahmat’s grandfather, and five Lovett brothers who were their cousins then also enlisted from the mission.

Although Mr McDonald didn’t take part in the Battle of Beersheba, Frederick Lovett did and his grandson participated in the centenary re-enactment.

Mrs Ahmat said watching the riders recreate the pivotal charge was “just magical”.

“You see all this line of horses just coming down and the dust rose behind them and you just thought, ‘Oh my god, that’s what would have been seen back then’,” she said.

Discharged in 1919, Mr McDonald spoke little of his war experiences but family remembered him believing his dark skin had saved him once from being killed alongside fellow Australian soldiers because the Turks thought he was one of them.

Mr McDonald, who also enlisted in World War II, married later in life and had no children. Before his death in 1967, he had become a prominent figure at the Framlingham Aboriginal Reserve, near where he grew up.

Mrs Ahmat hopes to learn more about his early life, with younger members of the family keen to develop their research into a play.

“Make sure that his story is told through generations,” Mrs Ahmat said.